The story of Cain Eaton refusing to sell his poem to Robert Redford couldn't be more, well, shucks, Montana.
You can't sell your heart, Eaton believes, and that's where the poem came from that he refused to sell to Redford, who wanted it to use in "The Horse Whisperer."It wasn't a hard decision for the soft-spoken Absarokee 15-year-old to make and keep.
But it was hard for the Redford representative assigned to get the poem to swallow. Redford's representative was persistent; never persuasive.
"Yeah, she really put the pressure on," Eaton said. "She called me, she called my mom, then she called me again."
Eaton didn't budge.
"She offered me $100 at first. Then $500. She could have offered me a million dollars, and I wouldn't have sold it," he said. "You can't put a price on what's in your heart."
The poem, about a calf that Eaton raised to be a prize-winning steer, caught Redford's interest when Eaton was considered for a part in the film. He met Redford's location manager - Carol Fontana - two years before filming finally began when she was scouting film sites in the Stillwater River Valley. She noticed the lanky young rider moving cattle near Midnight Canyon and later met Eaton after she lost her dog and he found it for her.
"She was really taken with Cain," his mother, Katie, recalled. "She told Redford about him, thinking he might be good for a part in the movie."
The film was delayed for a year during which Redford settled on the Boulder River Valley rather than the Stillwater, and a year when Cain "had one of those winter growth spurts," Katie said.
By the time Redford talked to Cain again he had literally "outgrown the part," she said.
But he didn't outgrow his resolve about his poem.
Cain says he recited the poem for Redford at The Sport Cafe in Livingston one night.
"We were talking after dinner, and he was asking me about my acting experience and such," Cain said. "I didn't really have any. I can ride and rope, I told him. And I had recited at some cowboy poetry gatherings. So I told him my poem."
Eaton "tells" all his poems, in the oral tradition of buckaroos. Eaton is a big fan of buckaroos, not to be confused with cowboys.
"The term cowboy got wrecked by rodeo," he said. "I like buckaroos better. They're my heroes because they do what I'd like to do, make a living roping and riding. Guys like Bob Blackwell and Bill Dugan and Charley "Teddy Blue" Abbott," Eaton said. "They don't have to tell people how good they are or be on TV."
They are the kind of men, Eaton said, who spend more of their lives with their boots in stirrups than on the ground, hands callused from rawhide and rope, hearts free to wander and minds clear of claptrap. There's room for poems in those hearts and minds.
That's why Eaton never kept a written version of his poem.
"It's in my heart and in my head," he said.
Redford remembered enough of the poem to want it, figuring it would fit nicely into his movie.
But Cain had serious misgivings about letting Redford use it.
"I read `Horse Whisperer,' " Cain said. "I didn't see how a poem about a steer worked with a story about a horse."
He feared that the poem would be changed to suit the movie. He also didn't like the idea that someone else would be "telling" it.
"It's my poem," he said. "I had others ask me if they could use it, but it's mine to recite. They can make up their own."
Redford's representative seemed miffed that Cain wouldn't change his mind, Katie Eaton says, and perturbed that Katie wouldn't intervene.
"After Cain told her no, she tried to get me to change his mind. I told her it was Cain's poem. She even asked me if Cain made all the decisions in the household, kinda snooty."
The representative then made another run at Cain.
"She said Redford really wanted to use it and he wanted it real bad. I told her if he wants it why doesn't he call me himself," Cain said.
"She said he was awful busy, but in my book, if you want something you go to the person and ask personally. There's lots of busy people."
Later Redford's exasperated emissary called again.
"She told me how most people would give their left arm to have something to do with Redford and this picture. Well, I wouldn't give my left arm," Eaton said he told her. "That's the arm I write with."
No hard feelings, Eaton hopes. Redford was "a nice enough guy."
Now, with the film out, Eaton hasn't changed his mind about his decision. People Magazine Insider columnist Nancy Perry Graham briefly noted Eaton's declining Redford in the May 18 issue, provoking quite a stir at the Eaton household when radio talk shows called and other reporters sought interviews.
The sudden celebrity - including the razzing he takes from classmates - doesn't faze Eaton.
"You can't let the little things get to you. All this doesn't really amount to much," he shrugged.
Besides, that steer, "Boy," brought $1,285 at auction.
`Boy' by Cain Eaton
Now "Boy's" a name you call me,
But not for a steer, unless you're three.
Like my brother who named him when he was born
And it stuck to him like a hat on a horn.
I watched him when he came into this world
And I loved him tho' he was slimey and cold.
My sister and I each had a calf
We fed them and weighed them and gave them a bath.
He got so he licked me just as tho' to say
If I gotta bathe, turnabout's fair play.
As time went on we became real close
And he soon learned that I was the boss.
So off to the Fair we went with high hopes
My Mom said he'd sure impress most folks.
Well, he did, he placed in the top 8 overall
With a purple ribbon to hang in his stall.
But then came the sale and it still didn't dawn
On this boy that his Boy would not go back home.
And then it sunk in as I saw him penned
With the other steers, and I tried to amend
Of the thought of the money he had brought
And things that I could buy but nary a thought
would help me
And I turned just then
and he licked me once more through his pen
I patted his neck with tears in my eyes
And I whispered to him my last good byes
As long as I live
I'll never forget
The Boy I had loved and left.